LSU Football Preview

LSU's football program has been a funk since playing for the national championship in 2011. Losing five straight to Alabama might be understandable (though we'd never tell Tiger fans that!), but LSU has failed to make a major bowl game in any of those seasons and is averaging less than 10 wins per year. Head coach Les Miles was nearly fired last year before a sudden about-face by the administration kept the Mad Hatter in Baton Rouge.

These are not the markings an elite program, yet that's how LSU is being treated by the betting markets. They're a 12-1 shot to win the national title, the fifth-best in the country. They have better odds than Florida State, a recent national champion, and Oklahoma, a Playoff team last year. What gives?

It starts with the way Miles recruits. He's strung together four straight classes ranked in the top six nationally. That would cover every player currently in the program. It was a weak recruiting year following the 2011 season that foreshadowed trouble and smart betting market analysts know that sustained success on the recruiting trail invariably leads to success on the football field.
It's also impossible not to love running back Leonard Fournette. He was a workhorse last year, carrying the ball 300 times and rushing for 1,953 yards. That's a healthy average of 6.5 yards-per-carry playing in an offense where everyone knew he would get the football.

That's where the rub comes in. Fournette was ineffective against Alabama, because you can't just run over a really good defense and LSU had no way to loosen up the defensive front seven. Brandon Harris was erratic at quarterback, completing just 54 percent of his passes. None of his targets went over 700 yards receiving.

Furthermore, while the talent level is high on defense, the performance on the field last year was not. LSU ranked 33rd in the country in points allowed. That's not terrible, but it's not national championship worthy. Miles responded by changing defensive coordinators, bringing in Dave Aranda who oversaw the best scoring defense in the country at Wisconsin.

Aranda might be just what the Tigers need. He plays an aggressive style and his 3-4 scheme will bring waves of pressure from the linebacker spot. That happens to be exactly where LSU's best player, Kendall Beckwith is at. Aranda will also have corners that can play lockdown coverage, something he didn't always have in Wisconsin.

Speaking of Wisconsin, that's where LSU's first test will come. They play the Badgers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on September 3. The subsequent SEC schedule includes road trips to Auburn, Florida and Arkansas, along with the highly anticipated November 5 home game with Alabama.

LSU, like other SEC teams, can afford to lose one game, so long as that game doesn't cost them the division title and a chance to play for the conference championship. That can be translated into meaning the Tigers have to beat the Tide, but could have a slipup somewhere else (a necessary cushion in SEC play) and still qualify for the College Football Playoff.

But that's a reason not to like LSU at the 12-1 price. If this team does become title-worthy, chances are they still lose one game and the Tigers could then be invested in at a much better price. For now, this is a team that hasn't done anything in five years, has a coach on the hot seat, had the 57th-ranked offense a year and still has quarterback problems, and is being priced based solely on the potential of the recruiting classes. College football bettors can find better uses for their money than that.

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